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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. Nick Lane

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  2,733 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews
How did life invent itself? Where does DNA come from? Why do we die? Over the last decades, groundbreaking new research has provided vivid insights into the makeup of life.

Drawing on this wealth of new scientific knowledge, biochemist Nick Lane reconstructs the history of life by describing the ten greatest inventions of evolution, considering how each - from DNA to sex, f
Paperback, 344 pages
Published 2010 by Profile Books Ltd. (GB) (first published 2009)
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Todd Martin
In “Life Ascending” Nick Lane discusses in what his opinion are the ten most important developments in evolutionary history. They are:
1. The origin of life.
2. DNA
3. Photosynthesis
4. The complex cell
5. Sex
6. Movement
7. Sight
8. Hot blood
9. Consciousness
10. Death
In each section Lane discusses what we know about the topic, then moves into more speculative and cutting edge research. He does a good job explaining the basics, but does not provide enough information to carry the reader through the end
Courtney Johnston
How do I love this book? Let me count the ways ...

I love Nick Lane's tone, which manages to balance wit and clarity without overusing the analogy button:

Thermodynamics is one of those words best avoided in a book with any pretence to be popular, but it's more engaging if it's seen for what it is: the science of 'desire'. The existence of atoms and molecules is dominated by 'attractions', 'repulsions', 'wants' and 'discharges', to the point that it becomes virtually impossible to write about chem
Jan 17, 2011 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fact
I don't envy authors who choose to write about biology. Of all the sciences, it lacks the rules and models that make chemistry and physics so enticing. In those subjects, we have the dance of planets generated from the simple inverse square law of gravity, the solved mystery of wave-particle duality, the puzzle pieces of have-electrons need-electrons chemical bonds. But in all those cases, we know what's going on and why--there are rules, there's a reason goddamnit.

And then there's biology. Biol
Harry Rutherford
Jan 15, 2011 Harry Rutherford rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The ten ‘inventions’ are: The origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. Lane explains how each of these work and how they evolved, at least as far as current knowledge can take us — which in some cases, like the origin of life, is apparently rather further than I had realised. The consciousness chapter, if you’re wondering, was rather less persuasive.

What sets this book apart from most popular accounts of evolution is that Ni
Jan 29, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life Ascending, winner of the 2010 Royal Society prize for popular science books, is one of the greatest of all time. The OEDB list of greatest popular science books is out of date. This is science on the cutting edge, championing theories that have been gaining attention slowly in recent years, among those interested in biology but not in the mass media. Techniques, equipment and insights started with the Human Genome Project, plus the ability to see and model ever tinier structures, have led t ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Bettie☯ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Hayes, Susanna
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 12, 2012 Gendou rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, biology
I had a lot of fun reading this book up until the end, when I started to worry about the author's propensity towards exaggeration and speculation.
For anyone who wants to learn about cutting edge speculation on the origin of life, Eukaryotas, and sex, it's definitely worth a read!
Anyone allergic to new-age nonsense sociology, just skip the last 9th chapter.
Everyone should take the last chapter with a very large grain of salt, because it's full of speculation, overblown claims, and other lies.

1. T
Apr 01, 2012 Maurice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
And how did consiousness rise from lifeless matter? His chapter about consciousness has some interesting things to say about that. With that I mean that is has become possible to observe the brain working, seeing specialised regions at work in the brain.
They see how the brain - while the person looks at an object- has 30 to 60 regions of specialised neurons firing. They only fire when their litle aspect is recognised.
E.g. we have neurons specialised in firing only when an object moves from left
Gavin Drury
Jul 14, 2012 Gavin Drury rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I think that the picture painted in this book is true. Life most surely evolved, along the lines described here. That is not dogma, but evidence tested in reality and corrected accordingly. Whether this grand picture is compatible with faith in God, I do not know. For some people, intimately acquainted with evolution, it is; for others, it is not. But whatever our beliefs, this richness of understanding should be a cause for marvel and celebration. It is a most wonderful thing to share so much ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Aug 18, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The details in this book are fascinating! Lots of fun speculation interwoven with intricate descriptions of various facets of living organisms on an almost chemical/cellular level. This makes it very distinct from other books on evolution as the author literally picks his random top favorite topics and just starts discussing. I listed to this on auido and it kind of felt like a podcast in the manner it was presented. It was really fun and I liked the reader a lot. This is a great one to throw on ...more
Ralph Hermansen
Feb 08, 2013 Ralph Hermansen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Life Ascending" by Dr. Nick Lane is a fascinating adventure. I would not recommend it to you as your first book on evolution and probably not as your second or third. However, if you have read enough to somewhat appreciate the role of DNA and genes in evolutionary science, then you will find this book very worth reading. The author is a biochemist and he looks at evolution through a biochemist's eyes. He stops short of introducing structural formulas of organic compounds and focuses more on des ...more
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
This was one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure to read. If you like a book that delves deep into every tiny detail, this is the book for you. If things like ATP, leaky mitochondria, bacteria that can live in strange conditions, how DNA was discovered (and how Crick thought aliens put it on Earth), you will enjoy Lane's wonderful adventure of how life came to be. The science in this book was outstanding.
Ioannis Savvas
Feb 14, 2013 Ioannis Savvas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: Βιολογία
Ο Nick Lane είναι βιοχημικός και το βιβλίο του Life Ascending κέρδισε το Royal Society Prize for Science Books για το 2010. Διαβάζοντας πρόσφατα ένα φρικτό βιβλίο εκλαϊκευμένης επιστήμης, η σύγκριση είναι αναπόφευκτη. Ο Nick Lane συνθέτει μια συμφωνία επιστημονικών δεδομένων για να παρουσιάσει ένα καταπληκτικό μουσικό έργο με πρωταγωνιστή την Εξέλιξη. Ο συγγραφέας επιλέγει τις δέκα σημαντικότερες «εφευρέσεις» της Εξέλιξης και συνθέτει δέκα κεφάλαια κλιμακωτά. Βήμα-βήμα ανεβαίνει την εξελικτική π ...more
Ben McFarland
Oct 08, 2013 Ben McFarland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've read by Nick Lane and I already know I'm going to read more. Lane approaches scientific controversy with a light hand, but he talks about the real issues and the real science going on. Lane is a practicing biochemist who writes popular science, and it shows. This book is framed around 10 "innovations" evolved by life: all the way from the origin of life to mitochondria to consciousness and death. A lot of the general issues I've become familiar with from the scientifi ...more
Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch

Nick Lane is a self-described evolutionary biochemist and presently Senior Lecturer in the Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution was awarded the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. He has previously published Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World and Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life. His What is Living? Why Energy Drives the Origin and Evolution of Life
Dec 17, 2014 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this to be a mixed bag. I found some chapters such as Complex Cells and Hot Blood fascinating and others such as Movement and Consciousness quite tedious. The author does a good job of reducing complex biological processes into simpler terms but I felt he used weird analogies far too often to illustrate his point. When he started comparing muscle proteins into classical music I had to roll my eyes. In addition, a few more illustrations would be useful to show some concepts.
It was nice to
Michael Kenning
Sep 03, 2014 Michael Kenning rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Whether you accept the theory of evolution or not, one thing that puzzles all who dare think about life is its complexity. It certainly perplexed me. This book is the antidote to that condition.

Nick Lane's descriptions of the theories behind the evolution of movement, photosynthesis, respiration, etc., are not condescending. What impressed me most is the use of natural language to express scientific theories unequivocally. This is encouraging. It's the kind of communication which is vital in ens
Lois Bujold
Nov 10, 2014 Lois Bujold rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lois by: spotted in list of other-books-by

Excellent pop science writing, as absorbing as a novel (I read it in two days). The author has a knack for compelling narrative flow that seems both natural, and accumulating to some sense of Getting Somewhere by the end, always very satisfying.

Lots of new things from recent (and less recent) research that I hadn't yet heard about, which was much of what I was hoping for from this book. It also gives, in passing along the way, a good sense of how science itself evolves. Wow has biology ever adva
Jun 06, 2016 Sne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before reading Nick Lane I have never had interest in Biology. I didn't even watch Animal Planet. And for a month now I can't stop talking about mitochondria, DNA, evolution, etc.
His books are fascinating. I like the way he structures his statements, his sense of humor, the analogies he makes, the notions that start floating in your head. I like that he obviously likes The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy :)
Somebody here has said that he is speculating too much with unproved theories. May be bec
Dec 18, 2014 Darren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A pretty amazing read. I did not know exactly what to expect, but thoroughly enjoyed the theories described in this book regarding the origins of life and the milestones along the way that resulted in today's abundant but ever-struggling life in all it's many forms. The science is solid, and the storytelling style of historical events in life's development is both entertaining and enthralling. Here's a brief review I found online that I liked:

The author Nick Lane is a biochemist and he deals wit
Elliott Bignell
Apr 11, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This catalogue of the greatest achievements of evolution, by which I understand "those that led to Nick Lane", amount to possibly the best popular account of evolution I have ever encountered. I have read all the Dawkins and all the Goulds, plus a dozen or so other books, so I say it with a heavy heart, but that's the way I felt upon laying the book down.

The shelves are awash with popular science these days. It takes quite an effort to produce something that really stands out. Gould is sadly no
Darko Doko
Oct 14, 2016 Darko Doko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well I am super proud of myself. Six months ago I started this book but it seemed so tough for me that I returned it to Audible (u can do that on, thanks) but somehow got interested again and even more read it all the way through although had to repeat all chapters several times. But eventually I made it. Good for me!
Bill Leach
Jul 04, 2015 Bill Leach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has much more content than the title would suggest. The ten inventions are examined in detail from an evolutionary perspective, providing the latest knowledge and current theories as to how and when each evolved. Super engaging.

Chapter 1 - The Origin of Life

It appears that life started in the alkaline sea floor vents where seawater reacts with newly exposed rocks, creating the mineral serpentine. A steady supply of hydrogen reacts with carbon dioxide to form organic molecules (reverse
Sajith Kumar
Jan 11, 2016 Sajith Kumar rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Serious readers
Shelves: popular-science
This book showcases a chemist’s eye view of evolution, thereby affording another perspective to the charming story of life. In a survey of the history of life on earth, the author comes out with ten events, or rather inventions in his parlance, that thoroughly changed the course of life and diverted it into the highway leading to complex organisms like mammals and men. Development of the complex cell, sight, power of movement and sex constitute a few of the characteristics identified by the auth ...more
Abdo Hamdy
Oct 02, 2015 Abdo Hamdy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was such an eye opening book..Fascinating
Lola White

الكاتب يتحدث عن أهم العمليات أو (إختراعات) التي نتجت عن التطور, و الكيفية التي تنتقل فيها الحياة من الاشكال البدائية إلى الأكثر تعقيداً و تطوّراً.
الكتاب مليء بمعلومات شيقّة و بعضها غريب و ربما غير معروف كثيراً كالمعلومات الواردة في الفصل الذي يتحدث عن الرؤية.
الكتاب ليس سهلاً و يفترض أن يكون القارىء ملمّلاً و قارئاً بما يتعلق باساسيات التطوّر على اقلّ تقدير.
For my money, few subjects are as impressive, beautiful, and awe-inspiring as biology and evolution. Is there a greater drama in the cosmos outside the long play of life, its actors emerging epoch by epoch -- many vanishing into the darkness once more, but not before leaving their mark upon those that follow them? The thought that the immense and varied mass of life on this earth, so rich as to beggar description, is ultimately unified by common ancestry still staggers me. Earth's history of lif ...more
Ken Kaufman
Jul 02, 2016 Ken Kaufman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mind-expanding. Gives a full banquet of food for thought.
Oct 21, 2016 Yael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book for all people who want to understand science as it is today
Oct 08, 2016 Amélie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read to demonstrate in 1st year biology.
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Science of evolution 1 30 Jan 20, 2010 08:55AM  
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  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
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  • Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
  • Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins
  • Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
  • What Evolution Is
  • Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
  • Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys
  • The Variety of Life: A Survey and a Celebration of All the Creatures that Have Ever Lived
  • Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  • Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators
  • Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution
  • Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life
Dr Nick Lane is a British biochemist and writer. He was awarded the first Provost's Venture Research Prize in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London, where he is now a Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry. Dr Lane’s research deals with evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics, focusing on the origin of life and the evolution of complex cells. Dr Lane w ...more
More about Nick Lane...

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